November 2012• Observed
The architect Haiko Cornelissen makes the most of a tight space in a dense neighborhood.
By Kelly Hushin
Queens, New York
At 6:30 a.m., Roosevelt Deli & Grocery, Utopia Market, and Bravo Comida Rapida are already teeming with guests of every ethnicity, as employees prepare outdoor drums to hold tamales for the lunch rush. Jackson Heights, in Queens, New York, is a multi-cultural neighborhood known for pre-war co-op apartment buildings and a strong working class—not modern architecture and design.
The architect Haiko Cornelissen’s minimalist Wall-All apartment might seem out of place in this context. But his plan was motivated by practical concerns. With a child on the way and equidistant commutes (Cornelissen worked at OMA and Steven Holl Architects before starting his own firm last year), he and his wife had come to enjoy the comforts of Jackson Heights. In 2009, they bought a home that they could customize for modern, efficient city living in the neighborhood.
“We wanted to compress all the functions in the perimeter so that we would have more space left over for the things we like to do most—like living,” Cornelissen says. After knocking down many of the existing walls in the 1,100-square-foot space, he started with the deepest object, the refrigerator. From that thickness, he built a series of handle-free, hidden cabinets with graduated depths, forming a serrated wall in the kitchen.
Across from those cabinets is a wall of bookshelves, with a media center behind one upside-down door, and the entrance to the two bedrooms and bathroom behind the other door. Cornelissen’s home office is hidden in another wall, with pocket doors to screen it from view. The clean-lined theme continues in the bedrooms and bathroom, where no handles can be found on any closet or cabinet—in order to hide the “stuff” that, according to him, interferes with the functionality and tranquility of a home.
Last spring, the Guggenheim Museum conducted a study of Jackson Heights for an installment of its traveling exhibition “stillspotting nyc”, which celebrated moments of stillness in unexpected places. Cornelissen’s quiet home was selected as a stop on the exhibition’s tour. Then, last July, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a contest to reimagine New York’s small living spaces, after census data revealed that one- and two-person households are growing at a faster rate than larger family homes.
Cornelissen now has some expertise in that area. “In New York there’s so little space, you have to make a lot of choices,” he says. “You can’t have it all.”